Aspirations on a winter night

Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (21)

冬夜諸兄弟言志、師見和之 (冬夜に諸兄弟志を言う、師見て之れに和せらる)

Seeing the Brother Monks Speaking of Their Aspirations on the Winter [Solstice] Night, the Teacher Dōgen Joined In

Over more than twenty-one hundred years,
In India and China so much has passed, yet Dharma remains.
Although the robe transmitted by buddha ancestors is all pervading,
I sympathize with clouds and water monks in bitter cold wintry night.[1]

二千一百有余歳、 (二千一百有余歳、)
竺漢幾経法尚残、 (竺漢幾か経て法尚お残る、)
仏祖伝衣縦徧界、 (仏祖の伝衣縦い徧界なりとも、)
可憐冬夜水雲寒。 (憐れむべし冬夜水雲の寒きを。)


This is verse 21 in Kuchugen and verse 76 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There is no difference in this poem between the Monkaku version and the Manzan version.

Seeing the Brother Monks Speaking of Their Aspirations on the Winter [Solstice] Night, the Teacher Dōgen Joined In

Dōgen Zenji gave a formal discourse in the Dharma Hall on the morning of winter solstice each year. Five of them are recorded in Eihei Koroku. During the night, it seems that his assembly of monks have some kind of gathering and speak of their aspirations. Until the winter solstice, yin () energy is getting stronger, the day is getting shorter, and the night is getting longer. On the winter solstice day yin energy is strongest; however, from that day on it is also the time yang() energy gradually restores its strength. This is a good occasion for refreshing one’s mind. What these monks are doing might be similar to making a new year’s resolution. Dōgen is listening to the monks’ aspirations and presents this poem.

In the Winter Solstice Dharma Hall Discourse for 1245 at Daibutsuji (later renamed Eiheiji), Dōgen said:

For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its glow increases. Today’s first [arising of] yang [and the daylight’s increase] is an auspicious occasion; a noble person reaches maturity. Although this is an auspicious occasion for lay people, it is truly a delight and support for buddha ancestors. Yesterday, the short length [of day] departed, yin reached its fullness, and the sound of cold wind ceased. This morning the growing length [of day] arrived, and yang arises with a boisterous clamor. Now patch-robed monks feel happy and sustained, the buddha ancestors dance with joy.[2]

Dōgen says, “Although this is an auspicious occasion for lay people,” because the winter solstice cerebration is not originally a Buddhist annual event but is taken from the Chinese secular custom.

Over more than twenty-one hundred years,
In India and China so much has passed, yet Dharma remains.

According to Jingde Chuandeng lu (景徳伝灯録 Keitoku Dento-roku), Shakyamuni was born during the reign of King Zhao of the Zhou dynasty, on the eighth day of 4th month in the twenty-sixth year of his reign. That is 1029 BCE. The Buddha died in the 53rd year of the reign of King Mu, on the fifteenth day of the second month. That is 949 BCE. Dōgen calculates the number of years after the Buddha’s death based on this record. In Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha Nature) he wrote:

Commitment to its study has continued for two thousand one hundred and ninety years (until now, the second year of Ninji (1241), a direct, undeviating lineal descent of exactly fifty generations (until my late master, priest Tien-t’ung Ju-ching).[3]

I am not sure why Chinese people determined the Buddha’s birth and death dates in that way. Even today, Buddhist scholars have various opinions about the birth and death dates of the Buddha. According to Theravada tradition, Shakyamuni Buddha was born in 624 and died 544 BCE. Some Japanese scholars think he was born 463 and died 383 BCE.

In any event, Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings have been transmitted and spread all over Asian countries. According to Zen tradition, the Dharma had been transmitted through fifty generations of ancestors in India and China until Dōgen transmitted it to Japan. Dōgen founded Koshoji monastery in 1233 and practiced there for ten years before moving to Echizen in 1243 to establish Eiheiji. Dōgen taught and practiced there with (most likely) a relatively small number of assembly monks.

Although the robe transmitted by buddha ancestors is all pervading,
I sympathize with clouds and water monks in bitter cold wintry night.

In Shobogenzo Den-e (Transmission of the Robe), Dōgen writes:

In which tradition, like our authentic transmission, have both the robe and the Dharma of Shakyamuni Buddha been authentically transmitted? These exist only in the Buddha Way. When we encounter this robe and the Dharma, who can be lax in venerating them and making offerings to them? Even if, on each day, we have to discard our bodily lives as innumerable as the sand of the Ganges river, we have to make offerings to them. We have to take a vow to meet [the robe and the Dharma] and respectfully receive it lifetime after lifetime, world after world. Even though we were born beyond mountains and oceans more than one hundred thousand miles away from the land where the Buddha was born, and though we are foolish and uncivilized, if we hear the true Dharma, receive and maintain a kasyaya even for one single day and night, and study even one phrase or one verse [of the Dharma], we have the good fortune of making and offering not only to one or two buddhas but also to countless hundreds, thousands, billions of buddhas. Even if this is done by our self, we have to venerate, love, and value our deeds. We should thoroughly express our gratitude for the great kindness of the ancestral masters who have transmitted the Dharma.

Dōgen is happy that he has some monks who study the Dharma and practice wearing the kasyaya he transmitted from China. Even though his temple is small, he says the merit is pervading the entire dharma world. However, he is also sorry and feels pity for those monks who practice in such a cold climate.

At Sanshinji, our zendo has an air conditioner. I can sit wearing a summer kimono, koromo, and okesa (kashaya) all year around. Still, sometimes we complain if it too cold or too hot in the zendo. I feel I need to practice repentance. Dōgen Zenji said his era was uncivilized, but people in a very civilized country like the USA are not necessarily better Buddhist practitioners. Dōgen Zenji said in Shobogenzo Zazengi (Standard of Zazen), “It is essential that it [the zendo] is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.” Possibly he would agree with having an air conditioner for the zendo. But I am not sure.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-76, p.630) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,

[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Jodo 135, p.163 -164.

[3] The Heart of Dōgen’s Shobogenzo (translated by Norman Waddel and Masao Abe, SUNY, 2002) p.60.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

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